You’re in the gym fired up and ready to start working out. But where to start?
Should you hit the cross-trainer to get your heart pumping, or work on resistance training on the bench?
It’s actually the most common dilemma that people are faced with when they begin their fitness training. You’ve probably got a good idea of what you want to achieve – improved muscle tone, a slimmer physique, or better endurance – but you’re not quite sure how to work towards it effectively.
Know Your Goals
The way to determine whether cardio, weights, or a mix of both is best for you is to firstly, identify what your priorities are. Do you want to develop a leaner, sexier figure…basically to look better naked? Are you keen to develop more muscle size? Are you training for a marathon? Your aims will determine what type of workout you need.
You also need to recognize how often you can train. Are you going for maximum commitment – for example, around 5 sessions a week? Or are you more of a 2-3 work-outs a week kind of person? Working out how many hours you can devote to your fitness regime will help you identify how best to spend your time.
Which Type Are You?
I want to gain muscle
If your priority is to gain muscle, you’ll need to predominantly focus on weight training. The classic ‘fuller muscle’ look is only achievable through pumping some serious iron, with varying intensity, loads, tempos, and rep/set ranges. My advice is to vary training weeks between focussing on volume i.e. 4-5 sets of 10-12reps per muscle group and also focussing on pure strength i.e lower heavier sets of 4-6 reps. In addition to this throw in plenty of drop sets and often look to exhaust the eccentric strength of a muscle group as part of your ‘finisher’ routine at the end of a session.
To accompany training you will also have to get your nutrition spot on… as always. In this case, you want to fuel the muscles and help them recover without going overboard on the carbs and potentially increasing body fat. Therefore why not try experimenting with some carb cycling i.e save your quality carb intake for the 2-hour window post-training. Don’t forget to keep your protein intake on par as well with regular top-up snacks and meals every 2-3 hours throughout the day. As they say…’ eat clean, train dirty!
I want to look slimmer/tone up
If you’ve got some fat to lose, combining resistance training with HIIT and LISS cardio is often an effective way to achieve this – get your heart rate going and get some tension into your muscles. This is a great way of training as there is plenty of variety and you can enjoy a wide spectrum of training styles. Perhaps try focussing on resistance supersets when in the gym – train opposite muscle groups back to back with rep ranges of 3 sets of 10-15 whilst keeping rest times down to 60-90 seconds.
Also, integrate some high-intensity cardio into proceedings. I find the rower is great for this – 30 seconds at a maximum effort followed by 60 seconds recovery at 50% effort, repeat this for 5-10 sets. In addition to your gym work, get outside and enjoy some low-intensity steady-state training – I like to do this in the morning with my favourite tunes on and in a beautiful setting.
I want to build my endurance.
Some people might just want to feel fitter – to be able to run a mile without breaking too much of a sweat, or play football with their friends without feeling breathless after five minutes! To build endurance, a mix of cardio and weight training works wonders – with a focus on gradually building the intensity and duration of your exercise. I rarely advise people to focus on cardio alone, even if they are training for an endurance event such as a marathon.
Balancing their training with some controlled environment work is essential to improve movement/performance and reduce the chance of injury. Therefore set yourself a steady cardio plan that increases your endurance week by week but accompanies it with some quality resistance training that strengthens your lower body as well as your upper body…and doesn’t forget your recovery sessions for those long attritional runs!